HomeOpinion & AnalysisLetter from America-Dr Martin Luther King had a lesson for Zimbabwe: Maladjustment!

Letter from America-Dr Martin Luther King had a lesson for Zimbabwe: Maladjustment!

As we celebrate Dr Martin Luther King holiday, I am surprised by the similarities of the issues facing African Americans and those faced by Zimbabweans today.

Since the year 2000, Zanu PF has retained power even though it has not won an election. The question arises, since it is an iron law of nature that no government can exist against the combined will of its people, how then did Zanu PF maintain its position. Dr King gave us some answers.

It is very simple. Citizens became well-adjusted to all sorts of indignities. There was even a temporary way out, temporary out-migration. In the deep south of the US, until Dr King decided to challenge the status quo, many blacks and whites had adjusted rather well to the indignities of racial segregation, buying hamburgers through a window, waiting in a pharmacy until all the white customers were served and older blacks lifting their hats when meeting any white woman whether acquainted or not. The white woman did not have to acknowledge the gesture of respect.

Such a black (the oppressed) who kept a smile despite the oppression around him, and such a white woman who disrespected an older black man by calling him a boy, are both well adjusted to their environment. One is a good Coloured man, and the other is a normal white woman, perhaps chairperson of the Baptist Women Missionary Society. So is the art of adjustment.

So, Zimbabweans, in millions, left home for South Africa, (three million), the UK, the US and the European Union. So is the nature of adjustment in Zimbabwe. The Tshilonga people are told they must give up their homes and land to a Dutch family, the Coetzes. The Philistine Obert Mpofu, with 65 000 acres behind his back complains that a young Zimbabwean (mukomana) with an Esidakeni (a tiny tomato patch) of 536 acres is annoying him. Those who become adjusted to such oppressions are of course good Zimbabweans, and they will be rewarded with agricultural inputs and T-shirts.

Dr King’s answer

Speaking to a Psychological Conference on December 18, 1963, he denounced the attitude of those who become adjusted to such indignities. “Certainly, we want to avoid the maladjusted life. But I say, to you, my friends, there are certain times in our nation and in the world about which I am proud to be maladjusted and I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted … I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leave millions of God’s children smothering in an air of tight cage poverty amid an affluent society. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.”

He pleaded with the scholars to take the fight into the classrooms, “to tell it like it is.” In so doing, by showing American students a mirror to their society, they might, in good time, redeem “the poisoned soul” of American racism.

Who will speak for us?

King answered this question also. He was talking to a group of 250 professors. The reference to telling truth as a way of redeeming society was made famous by Max Horkheimer at the German Frankfurt School in 1937.

The responsible person (the professor or journalist) has a responsibility to tell the story in such a way that the cleavages of society become obvious. It is the type of scholarship that reveals the indignities and oppressions suffered by lower classes — a critical presentation, thus came the name critical theory.

King had a suggestion. Do not say to yourself, well, I am only a lonely voice. If the prophet Amos had not spoken on behalf of the poor, his name would never have been in our chronicles and their story would have vanished from the face of the earth.

There is another issue as well. Those who keep quiet in the face of injustice believe that they are secure from its effects. “I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America.”

King introduced an economic theory that is now generally accepted. American Southern states remained steeped in poverty because white supremacists and their poor white supporters were more interested in keeping blacks in their place than in development.

Elsewhere, King was aware of the German Christian pastor Martin Niemoller (d 1984). Niemoller heard that the Nazis were persecuting the Poles. Well, it was none of his concern. He wasn’t a Pole. Then the Nazis came for the socialists. Well, Niemoller was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists. He was a Christian pastor. Then they came for the Jews. Well, he wasn’t a Jew, that is for sure. He let it pass.

“Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.” Niemoller says.

Those who keep quiet when Sipho Malunga loses his life-savings to a Philistine, and the Tshilonga people become homeless, while a Dutchman swallows his saliva with great satisfaction at the stupid natives, who are giving away their inheritance, believing that they are secure. King thought that this was foolishness on the part of bystanders. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in a network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects some directly, affects all indirectly.” said King.

Ontological question

If one keeps quiet in the face of oppression, one loses the “standing” to speak when he addresses oppressive activities that effect his interests. This is the case with many Zanu PF stalwarts who are now hiding in caves looking out for spies who may come to do them harm. Former Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere is one such cadre.

There are two kinds of problems. There are those good people who keep quiet while monstrosities are being committed. Then there are those who committed monstrosities themselves. They captured everything, the police, the judiciary and the prosecution. Now, as Kasukuwere finds himself on the outside, the only guarantee he has is that a Kangaroo court will find him guilty of the most egregious crimes on the face of the earth.

That is the nature (ontology) of the universe. You reap what you sow.

  • Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwe patriot and writer of books. His books are available from Innov Bookshops in Zimbabwe and from kenmufukabooks.com in the wider world.

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